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“So sorry, Lyonnais ...”

Playing the return match at home does the local team no favours

Munich, 04/26/2010

Their fans are cheering them on and, of course, the home team knows every square inch of the pitch. In two-leg football ties, the team that plays the return match on its home ground is widely thought to enjoy a considerable advantage. However, according to LMU statisticians Manuel Eugster, Jan Gertheiss and Sebastian Kaiser, this is one of those popular misconceptions. Based on an analysis of all ties in the knock-out phase of the Champions League since the 1994/1995 season, they find no evidence to support it. “Using the technique of logistic regression, we show that, statistically speaking, the home team in the return match does not have an advantage”, reports Sebastian Kaiser of the Institute of Statistics at LMU Munich. “Simply totting up the final results of all pairings revealed that, indeed, in the majority (57%) of cases, the home team in the second leg won the tie on aggregate. However, in the draw for the last 16, the winner of a group is always paired with the runner-up from another group, and the former – i.e. the team with the better record in the tournament – always plays the return leg at home.” When one takes this into account, the higher-ranked team is favoured and the effect of the venue vanishes. Backed up by this analysis, Kaiser reckons that FC Bayern Munich is the clear favourite for the return match against Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon. (

In the Champions League tournament organized by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the top two teams from each of eight groups drawn in the first stage of the competition qualify for the knockout phase. Each group winner faces the runner-up from another group and plays the first match of the two-leg tie away from home. This means that the group winners always have home advantage in the second leg. In the following rounds too, home advantage for the return match is usually a reason for celebrating. It is generally thought that the team that plays the second leg of its tie in front of its home crowd enjoys a clear advantage. “But in this season’s tournament, FC Bayern has reached the semi-finals despite playing the second legs of both knockout ties away from home”, says Jan Gertheiss. “That led us to pose the question whether the order of home and away matches has any significant influence on the final results in the knockout phase.” To answer this question, Eugster, Gertheiss and Kaiser analysed the results of all knockout matches in the Champions League since the 1994/1995 season.

The conclusion they reached was clear-cut. The order of venues has no effect on the aggregate results of home-and-away games. The critical variable was – perhaps unsurprisingly – the relative strength of the teams paired against one another. Based on a simple count, it turned out that 57% of the ties were won by the team that played the second match on its home ground. But when one considers the fact that, in the first KO round, group winners always play the second leg -- against weaker opponents (second-placed teams from the group phase) -- on home territory, the effect of home “advantage” disappears. When the researchers factored in teams’ relative strengths based on their UEFA rankings, this variable was found to be decisive for the overall outcome.

“Our results show that the practice of automatically having the group winners play the second leg of the first knockout round at home gives these teams no advantage“, says Kaiser. “It would probably make more sense to allow group winners to choose whether they want to play the first or the second leg at home. This would also give us -- and the players -- an interesting option, allowing us to use other statistical models to test whether a given team is better advised to begin the round of the last 16 at home or away.“ In the US, sports statistics are taken very seriously, and they are gradually receiving more attention in Europe. The LMU statisticians now plan to apply their techniques to data from other football competitions such as the UEFA Europa League or the FA Cup, as well as to other sports. “We will take a closer look at the results of the Champions League in handball“, says Gertheiss. “Home advantage is thought to be worth even more in handball than in football.“ (suwe)

The statistical analysis is available at:


Sebastian Kaiser
Institut für Statistik der LMU
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2180 - 3196

Manuel Eugster
Institut für Statistik der LMU
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2180 - 6254

Jan Gertheiss
Institut für Statistik der LMU
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2180 - 3351

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